Seven Questions: Robert Gallucci on Dealing With North Korea

The latest round of six-party talks has ended, and North Korea at last appears ready to halt its nuclear machine in exchange for economic aid. But after eight nuclear bombs and one nuclear test, is the deal several years too late? FP asked Robert Gallucci, dean of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and the diplomat who signed the 1994 Agreed Framework, for his take on the chances of a nuclear-free North Korea.

STR/AFP It's a deal: But are congratulations really in order?

STR/AFP It’s a deal: But are congratulations really in order?

FOREIGN POLICY: What are your first reactions to the deal thats apparently been struck between the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea?

Robert Gallucci: I think its a good first start, and Im pleased to see that were moving down the road of negotiation there are a lot of steps to go. What everybody will want to know is, Are we going to get all the plutonium? Are we going to get the uranium enrichment program? And you cant tell yet I think this agreement has the prospect, if its completed, of indeed stopping the North Korean nuclear program and rolling it back. But there is a long way to go from here to there. Both sides are going to have to work hard at this and have a certain amount of patience.

FP: Why do you think that the North Koreans agreed to talk now?

RG: I think that question proceeds from the wrong assumption: I think that the North Koreans have been prepared to talk for years, and we have not been. I think the correct question is, why is it that we are now prepared to talk?

FP: So why is the United States now willing to negotiate?

RG: I think the president of the United States made a decision, both after the midterm elections and after the North Korean nuclear test, that maybe of the foreign-policy problems he confrontsNorth Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraqthis is the one that he might be able to settle before he leaves office.

FP: This agreement apparently doesnt provide for the destruction of the bombs North Korea has created in the past three years, since the talks were last suspended. Youve seen John Bolton, among others, criticize the deal and claim that it simply rewards Pyongyang for holding off the State Department for years. Isnt there a danger that the negotiations will demonstrate that procrastination will eventually yield positive results for rogue states?

RG: Two things: [We] dont know that [the deal] doesnt require the destruction of fabricated nuclear weapons. But, certainly, accounting for the plutonium and spent fuel has to be one of the provisions of the deal, eventually. Second, this theory that Bolton apparently operates on, that were in a situation where we have to worry about rewarding people or not rewarding people is not a useful construct for international relations. Its probably not bad if youre trying to teach your kids about the playground, but [it doesnt work] for international politics. The only question to ask is, Would we be better off with this deal than without it? Does this serve the national security interests of the United States? If it does, then lets do it. If it doesnt, then lets not. Im not into the reward-and-punishment thing with the North Koreans, and its just too expensive a way of looking at an issue as important as this.

FP: The United States apparently promised to consider removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. How significant is that move?

RG: That actually could have been doneif my information is up to datequite some time ago, because while the North Koreans were guilty of some kinds of atrocious acts of terrorism in the past, we havent associated North Korea with terrorists for decades. So this is a move that can be done in good conscience. Its consistent with a general effort to improve political relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

FP: How likely is it that Kim Jong Il will follow through with gradual disarmament and fully disclose all of North Koreas nuclear stockpiles? Will he give up his most powerful bargaining chip with the West?

RG: I think its plausible; I dont think it is a certainty. I think it becomes more likely if the North Koreans believe theyre getting the political relationship they want with the United States and that they can rely on that relationship. If theyre not getting it, then their concern about having some way to dissuade the United States [means that Kim would resist] giving up that nuclear weapons program. So I think our behavior plays into the calculus of the North.

FP: How will this deal leave us any better off than we were in 2002?

RG: In 2002, before we confronted the North Koreans with the truth that we knew that they were cheating, we still needed to deal with that problem. We had locked up the plutonium, but there [was still] a secret uranium enrichment program. After we confronted them, we also told them that we wouldnt continue with this framework until they gave up this program as a unilateral first stepand they refused to do it. We now are in a situation where were saying, OK, well go step by step with you. Well provide some of the benefits you want, and youll provide some of the restraint that we want. So we are on a track now that could lead to the ultimate dismantlement of their nuclear weapons programs. Its a new and better position to be in.

Robert Gallucci is dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He served as the chief U.S. negotiator during the 1994 nuclear crisis and signed the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea.

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